Letter from Bodhgaya
Life in a plaster cast
It’s been an interesting last few weeks. I found myself on my backside on the side of a dark road yet again, having severed the precious connections between my scooter and the road and the scooter and myself, leading to multiple fractures below the left knee and a plaster cast that will probably stay connected to my precious human form for six to eight weeks. This event has caused me to consider seriously never going into Gaya at night again. Oncoming vehicles hardly ever dip their lights, and the edge of the road often has no smooth shoulder, only a jarring six-inch drop that leads to loss of control. I’m fortunate I had no other serious injury, and that my companion was unhurt. I learnt my lesson.
Other lessons are harder to learn, like how to really relate skillfully to another individual who feels let down, dejected, angry and who has found themselves at the receiving end of unjust rumor-mongering. So it came to pass that one fine morning I was balancing on one leg (the other in plaster, remember), shaving, when this person came in the door. An unsatisfactory, shall we say, verbal exchange took place, no shouting, mind you, at the end of which I found myself leaning on my walker two feet away from the person’s face. I must say that I saw a lot in the face before me, all of it resembling, in one form or another, the message of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. I even felt a wish to deeply communicate with the person, to dislodge what I perceived rightly or wrongly to be their accumulated burden of anguish. Later, as I sat quietly, somewhat sobered by it all, I recollected some very salutary words from a novel I’d just finished by the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. They seem to me to encapsulate the perennial challenge for those of us who are trying to be just that little bit more compassionate and courageous in our dealings before it gets too late and the aggregates pack up and separate. Here they are:
This came at a time when of course I was preoccupied with my own mishap and when people were coming to see me as I lay reclining, bathing me with their attention and commiseration. How nice, how exquisitely self-indulgent! Again and again one gets reminded of the self-imposed limitations of the self-cherishing thought and has to be slapped in the face by the encounter with the other. If I’ve learned something, well and good. If not, then there’s plenty more where that came from!
Other events have been more auspicious. The kind Guru has told us to construct a 20-foot Victory (Namgyalma) stupa at Maitreya School for the long lives of Gurus and students. This necessitated the calling up of four monks from Gyume Tantric College in south India to perform an extensive Earth Blessing Ritual and Fire Puja. The presence of just four well-trained monks like these is really a big boost. They are Geshes as well as experts in chanting, ritual, mandala design, and the kind of Protector Puja that leaves heavy metal and rock ’n’ roll way behind. As they constructed the image of the Naga King in colored sand at school, a circle of curious children watched, much interested by the techniques employed. Altogether yet another reminder of what we owe the Tibetans. Building a stupa is a way of glimpsing the whole spectrum of what they’ve meticulously preserved for our benefit. It’s pretty awe-inspiring, actually.
Now, after the obligatory initial low-level panic has been somewhat subdued by the afore-mentioned monks, I can quietly get on with the task of accumulating the holy objects that go into a stupa. Root Institute’s Director Venerable Trisha has already kindly bought us a set of the Kangyur. I’m sure the rest will happen according to the laws of dependent-arising. What with the huge prayer wheel coming together at Root, it appears to be a good phase for holy objects in Bodhgaya.
So many people said, “You’ll have so much time to read with your leg in plaster.” That has been partly true, but what I really want to say – the heart of this Letter from Bodhgaya – is that despite the hassles of this temporary condition, I can honestly rejoice in the fact that we’ve been taught how to begin to transform into decent and sane human beings; we’ve been given tasks that make our otherwise miserable lives rich and meaningful. We are shown a way to peel off the self-importance that has spoiled everything up to now. And I can, with honesty, say I’m finding Shantideva more powerful than ever.
Ven. Kabir Saxena (Losang Tenpa) works for the Maitreya Project School in Bodhgaya, India.